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EXAMINING THE PARTICIPATION OF PRESCHOOL CHILDREN IN THE WRITING CENTER DURING FREE CHOICE TIMES.

Introduction

This study is about supporting the writing skills of children. Research shows that children evolve from drawing to spelling to learning conventional writing (Vukelich & Christie, 2009; Miller & Goodnow, 1995). Research showed that children construct knowledge of writing with their environment (Clay, 1991). Print environments in classrooms provide important opportunities for children to observe written language. Also, the writing center is important for preschool children because this center is stocked with many materials and is organized, which encourages children's independent and self-centered participation (Johnson, 1999; Vukelich & Christie, 2009, Strickland & Schickedanz, 2009). 1 know little about what children are more interested in independently, on about how much time they spend in the writing center. This study researched four and five years old children who were doing writing activities. Also, this study was designed to reveal what children prefer to do in the writing center. Thus, the focus of this study was what the effective factors are for improving children's writing.

This study also described the features of the writing center. Looking at the definition of a writing center, it is a place in a classroom children go for writing during their free time. Children are inspired to increase their writing by the writing center, so they have good motivation about writing (Johnson, 1999). Children want to learn how to read and to write some words. The first level for independent writing is writing center experiences, such as copying names from a predictable chart, random letters from the alphabet, or words from a poster (Hall & Williams, 2000). Neuman, Copple, and Bredekamp (2000) noted that if teachers provide multiple opportunities for children to write freely, children are more likely to have independent interests in writing. Teachers can stock multiple types of writing instruments in their writing center (Riley, 1996). such as paper, pencils, pens, markers, paint, crayons, stamps, chalk, chalk boards, picture dictionary, scissors, stickers, etc. (Johnson, 1999; Warner & Sower, 2005; Morrow, 2007; Otto, 2008; Soderman & Farrell, 2008). Furthermore, children's name cards or message cards can be put in the writing center for easy use by children (Soderman & Farrell. 2008).

In this study, I observed how teachers support children in the writing center. Materials that attract the interest of children should be put in the writing center (Johnson, 1999). According to developmental approaches, children need to opportunities with writing materials to explore, they want to see demonstrations of writing, and they learn writing by adults and peers (Clay, 1991; Teale & Sulzby, 1986). Writing centers have aims for children, such as understanding print concepts, supporting children's writing, and providing opportunities for emergent writing (Warner & Sower, 2005). For example, scissors can allow children to cut out different pictures or shapes to use in their own example books. Most preschool children begin to develop small muscle coordination by effectively using scissors (Otto, 2008). Effective teachers organize the environment for children are supported to exposure meaningful symbols (Strickland & Schickedanz, 2009). Therefore, teachers should be given information about the uses of a writing center, so that they can introduce the writing center to children (Johnson, 1999). In this way, children can learn how to select materials and how to put them away independently (Morrow. 2007). Teachers also can explain the center's materials for children to use, so that children can use them actively and so that they experiment and create in the writing center such things as posters, cards, letters, and notes (Johnson, 1999; Otto, 2008).

Purpose of the Study

The aim of this study was to examine the writing center activities of preschool children during their free choice time. Specifically, this study focused on the role of the writing center in children's writing development. This study also designed to our understanding of preference of children in the writing center. Three research questions framed the study:

* How many children use the writing center during free choice time?

* How long do children use the writing center during their free choice time?

* What do children do in the writing center?

Significance of the Study

The professional literature suggests that teachers (a) encourage children's emergent writing, (b) provide ample materials in writing centers, and (c) invite children to experiment and play with writing as a mode of communication (Vukelich & Christie, 2009). Little is known, however, if doing such things during free choice time is sufficient for developing motivated and proficient emergent writers. Also, much less is known about the directly effects of writing centers on children's writing development. This study examined the preschool writing center as a site where the development of children's emergent writing could potentially occur. By describing the frequency, duration, and uses of writing done by children at such a writing center, this study provides a snapshot for those who want to develop further opportunities for writing in the preschool classroom.

Methods & Data

The case study was used in this study is a kind of qualitative research. Case studies are used to describe the details that make up a case, to improve possible explanations about a case, and to evaluate a case (Buyukozturk, Cakmak, Akgun, Karadeniz, and Demirel, 2008). In other saying, case studies are qualitative research that provides profoundly analysis by focusing on events, conditions, or individuals (Mukherji & Albon, 2010). In this study, the children's ways of participating at the writing center were represented in this case study. How children participate in the writing events at the writing center, it is possible by observing of writing events.

This study was conducted in the child development laboratories located at a university. Participants were the 18 five-year-old children in a classroom in a preschool. Twenty randomly selected observations of one hour each were made during free choice time. I designed a coding system for interpreting the children's behaviors in their writing center. In the free choice times, children who came to the writing center were coded for what they did in the writing center. Coding included the number of children using the center, the duration of use, the frequency of use, and the type of activities engaged in while using the center. For the type of activities, the codes were:

1. Writing (children write letter-like forms, letters, words, etc.)

2. Drawing (children make scribbles, lines etc.)

3. Painting (children paint images up or down on the paper)

4. Copying with chart (children use stencils like letters or shapes for copying)

5. Cutting with scissors

6. Other(s) (children use other material like plaster, hole punchers, etc.)

Data were collected during two months in the four- and five-year old classroom writing center. I coded children's time and their activities in the writing center. For inter-rater reliability of the coding, two raters independently coded 20 % of the observational data for the time the children spent, and for each activity in six categories. 1 compared the coding item by item for inter-rater agreement. Any differences were resolved by the two coders.

Writing Center Properties

Each school day, children have one hour free choices time during which children moved between learning centers. The classrooms had six centers and the writing center was in the middle of the classroom, with four chairs, one table with cupboard shelves, and one table without a cupboard, so that four children could actively use the writing center. The writing center had the same materials for children to develop their writing, such as paper, crayons, markers, glue, scissors, chalk board, erasers, envelops, stencils, colored pencils, etc. These materials were kept separately in plastic boxes on shelves. This center also had a bulletin board and a word wall, including high frequency words such as is, what, you, no.

Findings

This study was observed the children 69 times in the writing center during the twenty hours of free choices activities. The children spent different amounts time on the activities and they were coded the time spent by the children in minute.

Looking at Table 1, the children mostly spent between 10 minutes and 20 minutes in the writing center. However, the children rarely (2.9%) spent between 40 and 50 minutes. The children overall did different activities during their times in the writing center.

During the observations, the number of children number changed from eight to 18 in their classroom, and this study was observed mostly one or two children at a time in the writing center. 1 observed that this condition related to the other centers that had interesting materials; the children spent more time in the other centers using different materials. For example, in the fifteenth observation, the teacher added remarkable materials such as fruit seeds and puzzles on the cognitive table, and different colored pompoms on the sensory table. These materials were more interesting for the children, so that day only two children came to the writing center during the free choice time. I observed that the children who did not come to the writing center found the other centers more interesting, such as the pretend play area. The teacher just one time added encouragement materials, (relief plastic letters) to the writing center, in our seventeenth observation, so eight children came to the writing center for activities there that day. Also, the writing center sometimes had very little paper, or sometimes did not have any paper. The children usually went to get colored paper or blank paper from the art center.

I observed a child in the writing center 69 times, but the children came to writing center a different number of times. For example, one child was observed eleven times in the writing center, and I observed that she was interested in writing skills. I coded a total of twenty hours of writing activities, such as writing letters or words, but six of the writing activities I coded were done only by her. Therefore, some children were coded over and over again doing the something, and some other children did not come to the writing center at all within our twenty hours of observations. The unobserved children generally preferred spending time in the other centers with their conspicuous materials.

Looking at gender, the boys were observed in the writing center 12 times, and the girls were observed 57 times. The boys usually preferred the centers that attracted their attention with new added materials, such as the blocks area, the pretend play area. This finding also revealed that the girls were more interested in the writing center.

An observation different from others was in the twentieth observation, when the teacher was a model for the children's writing. She sat near the children in the writing center, and she spelled each word and wrote it on blank paper. The children then tried to read and write to these words.

Furthermore, this study focused on what the children did as activities in the writing center.

The observed children mostly made drawings and did pointing activities. Because six writing activities were coded for the same child, writing activity was coded the least times overall. Looking at the other activities, children used scissors, charts, punches, etc. These materials were stocked in the writing center, and the children had easy access to them. I observed the children locating materials in the writing center and developing small muscle skills, hand-eye coordination, and visual perception skills with these activities.

Discussion

Children's experiences related to literacy are very important for their literacy development (Fogo, 2008). For deeply understanding children's emergent literacy behaviors, children need to be observed carefully when they participate in literacy-related events such as writing independently (Otto, 2008). Providing multiple opportunities with writing materials in the classroom encourages children's writing skills (Neuman et al., 2000; Brewer, 2001). In this study, I observed children's behaviors related to their writing skills at the writing center in two ways: time spent and activities. Furthermore, I described the important elements for attracting the children's attention, such as participation according to children's gender, how many times the teacher added new materials, how many time she participated with the children at the writing center, and what the unobserved children did in the classroom. I discuss these finding in turn.

This study observation finding showed that there were associations between adding new and attractive materials and the children's preferred centers in the classroom. I collected data 69 times, which was including sometimes observing the same child several times. This study also was able to observe one child during four observations. Therefore, this study revealed that children preferred very little in the writing center in their free choice time. The preschool teachers can support the children with writing materials, and they can fill the writing center with material for engaging the children (Beaty & Pratt, 2007; Morrow, 2007). Clark and Kragler (2005) indicated that when preschool teachers use more writing materials, children develop more writing skills. The writing center should be interesting and inviting. Also, paper should be available for writing in the writing center (Morrow, 2007). Guo and Justice (2012) examined the association among literacy materials' features and children's emergent literacy in a book center and a writing center. They found positive and significant relations between the features and children developing skills such as name writing and alphabet knowledge. Thus, using more materials can assure that children will participate in more writing activities in the writing center.

Another finding showed that the observed children in the writing center spent time mostly between ten and twenty minutes at the writing center in their free choice activities. Research shows that when teachers add striking materials, like stickers, cards, magazines, etc., children have many products to use with their writing skills, and they spend much time in the writing center (Rowe, 2008). Also, setting up the writing center as a newspaper office, business office, post office, etc., invites children to participate (Brewer, 2001; Beaty & Pratt, 2007; Morrow, 2007). In this study within the twenty observations, the teacher added new materials one time. Therefore, the teacher should provide many more opportunities for the children to spend more time on.

The writing center is provided for children to practice and explore writing with tools such as paper, pencil, and chalk. Children are in a crucial time in their development of natural writing, and they need to push forward in their writing developing process. Therefore, observing children's writing behavior is important for understanding their emergent writing (Beaty & Pratt, 2007; Neuman et al., 2000). In this study, I observed that some children did not come to the writing center very much, or even at all. In particular, boys were observed participating very little (12 times). Considering the unobserved children, the teacher should provide them with opportunities to join them with opportunities the writing center with the other children (Beaty & Pratt, 2007). The teacher participated with the children only one time in the writing center within the twenty hours of observations. The teacher should model how children can use writing materials for their independent writing activities (Morrow, 2007). Rowe (2008) showed that the participation of teachers, such as talking about children's writing in the writing center, played a powerful role, so that children strived in their writing implements, and they showed their intentions and interests with their teacher's guidance. Teachers should be introduced to writing materials and activities in the writing center for the independent writing of children. This study pays attentions to teachers encouraging children.

In another significant finding, the observed children made mostly drawings. Initially, children implemented writing via drawing (Morrow, 2007). Research has showed that children's drawings represent their communication and understanding, and children's drawings are important for developing their visual literacy (Anning & Ring. 2004; Hopperstad, 2010). Hopperstad (2010) found that children need to be supported to make sense of their drawings and teachers need to encourage children's drawing related talk. Neumann, Hood, and Ford (2012) reported that when mothers applied strategies for children to develop their writing, such as pointing at and copying letters, children scaffold their emergent writing with these activities. In particular, copying of letters or shapes does not need to retrieve a template from memory, like writing and drawing do, but instead they engage each other. Copying requires motor control, and it translates as a visual pattern from the motor pattern of finger movements, so copying is crucial for children is writing and drawing behaviors (Jerde, 2004). Also, the eye-hand coordination of children is necessary for using writing implements, because children use their hand and finger movements directly for writing. In particular, cutting practice with scissors, such as cutting cards and wrapping paper, improves their eye-hand coordination, and this activity also provides for their use of their small muscles (Beaty & Pratt, 2007). This study shows that children's activities in the writing center provided for their improved writing skills, and each activity supported their writing skills.

Looking at the children's activities at the writing center. I observed very little writing activity, such as letter or word writing, and six times I observed the same child, who was clearly interested in writing behaviors. Diamond, Gerde, and Powell (2008) found the relations between children's writing skills and their understanding of letters, and they also showed the importance of letter knowledge for children's growth in writing. Also, Molfese and colleagues (2011) reported a strong correlation between letter writing and writing skills. Letter writing requires children to connect circles and lines, so children need to understand the meaning and purpose of their own writing in their diverse stages of writing. Preschool teachers can support alphabet knowledge by providing opportunities for children to explore (Fogo, 2008). Thus, children can write more letters or words, and they can have more interest towards writing in the writing center.

Conclusion

The purpose of this study was to examine how children use a classroom writing center in their free choice times, and to show what children are affected by in participating in a writing center. Using a coding system in the observation supported examining the participation of preschool children at the writing center in the free choice times. This study revealed that children preferred little in the writing center; they spent little time there; they did mostly drawing activities and they did little writing activity. Our observation notes showed that it was very effective for children when new material was added to the writing center, and when the teacher participated. Future research will produce further information about participation in the writing center by children, and it will help in learning how teachers can use the writing center more effectively for supporting children's emergent writing.

References

Anning, A. & Ring. K. (2004). Making sense of children's drawings. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Brewer, J. A. (2001). Introduction to early childhood education preschool through primary grades. Boston. MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Beaty. J. J., & Pratt. L. (2007). Early literacy in preschool and kindergarten. New York: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Buyukozturk. S; Cakmak. F.. Akgun. O., karadeniz, S., and Demirel. F. (2008). Bilimsel arastirma yontemleri. Ankara: Pegem Yayincilik.

Clark, P., & Kragler. S. (2005). The impact of including writing materials in early childhood classrooms on the early literacy development of children from low-income families. Early Child Development and Care, 175(4). 285-301.

Clay. M. M. (1991). Becoming literate: The construction of inner control. Portsmouth. NH: Heinemann.

Diamond, K., E., Gerde, H. K., & Powell, D. R. (2008). Development in early literacy skills during the pre-kindergarten year in head start: Relations between growth in children's writing and understanding of letters. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 23(4), 467-478.

Fogo, J. L. (2008). Writing in preschool. (Order No. 3330282, Purdue University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.

Guo. Y., Justice, L. M., Kaderavek, J. N., & McGinty. A. (2012). The literacy environment of preschool classrooms: Contributions to children's emergent literacy growth. Journal of Research in Reading. 35(3), 308-327.

Hall. D. P., Williams. E. (2000). The teacher's guide to building blocks. Greensboro NC: Carson-Dellosa Publishing Company.

Hopperstad, M. H. (2010). Studying meaning in children's drawings. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy. 10(4), 430-452.

Jerde. T. A. (2004). Copying geometrical shapes: An fMRI study at 4 tesla. (Order No. 3117541, University of Minnesota). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses.

Johnson. B. (1999). Never too early to write. Adventures in the K-l writing workshop. Gainesville FL: Maupin House Publishing.

Miller and Goodnow. (1995). Cultural practices: Toward an integration of culture and development. In J. Goodnow, P. Miller, and F. Kessel (Eds.), Cultural practices as contexts for development (pp. 5-20). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Molfese, V. J., Beswick, J. L., Jacobi-Vessels, J., Armstrong. N. B., Culver. B. I., White, J. M., & Molfese, D. L. (2011). Evidence of alphabetic knowledge in writing: Connections to letter and word identification skills in preschool and kindergarten. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 24(2), 133-150.

Morrow. L.M. (2007). Developing Literacy in Preschool. New York: Guilford Press.

Mukherji. P., and Albon. D. (2010). Research methods in early childhood. USA: Sage Publication.

Neuman. S., Copple. C. & Bredekamp. S. (2000). Learning to read and write: developmentally appropriate practices for young children. Washington D.C: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Neumann. M. M., Hood. M., & Ford. R. M. (2012). Mother-child joint writing in an environmental print setting: Relations with emergent literacy. Early Child Development and Care. 182(10), 1349-1369.

Otto, B. (2008). Literacy development in early childhood. Upper Saddle River. New Jersey: Pearson Education.

Riley. J. L. (1996). The ability to label the letters of the alphabet at school entry: A Discussion on its value. Journal of Research in Reading, 19, 87-101.

Rowe, D. W. (2008). The social construction of intentionality: Two-year-olds' and adults' participation at a preschool writing center. Research in the Teaching of English, 42(4), 387-434.

Strickland. D. S., & Schickedanz. J. A. (2009). Learning about print in preschool: Working with letters, words, and beginning links with phonemic awareness. Newark. DE: International Reading Association.

Soderman. A.K., Farrell. P. (2008). Creating literacy-rich preschools and kindergartens. Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Teale. W., & Sulzby. E. (1986). Introduction: Emergent literacy as a perspective for examining how young children become readers and writers. In W. Teale & E. Sulzby (Eds.), Emergent literacy (pp. vii-xxv). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

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DONDU NESLIHAN BAY

Eskisehir Osmangazi University

Appendix
Abbreviations   Coding System

O: Observation  (1) Writing
C: Children     (2) Drawing
T: Time         (3) Painting
A: Activity     (4) Copying with chart
                (5) Cutting with scissors
                (6) Other(s)


Coded Table
    1.0 (n:17)         2.0 (n:I7)       3.0 (n:17)            4.0 (n:8)
C.  T. (min.)   A.     T. (min)    A.   T. (min)    A.         T. (min)

1   10          2,3,5  22          1,2  24.32       1,2,3,5,6    .52
2    9          2,3                                            15.37
3    2          4                                              13.08
4
5

             5.0 (n:14)       6.0 (n:17)             7.0 (mil)
C.  A.       T. (min)    A.   T. (min)    A.         I. (min)   A.

1   6        8.15        2,6  22.54       1,2,3,5,6  14.15      2,3
2   1,2,3,7                   19.50       2,3,6       3         2,3,6
3   2,5,6                                             4.48      2,5,6
4                                                     5.17      2,3,5
5                                                     1.15      2

    8.0 (n:8)         9.0 (n:9)          10.0 (n:18)
C.  T. (min.)  A.     T. (min)   A.      T. (min)     A.

1   11         2,3,6  12.22      1,23,5  12.16        2,4
2    3.11      2,3                       12.22        1,2,6
3   22.05      2,3,6                     17           2,3,5,6
4    2.30      2,3                       12.45        2,3
5    1.30      2,4                        9.30        2,3
6                                         3.56        2
7                                        12.17        2,5

    11.0 (n:16)         12.0 (n:18)         13.0 (n:14)
C.  T. (min)     A.     T. (min)     A.     T. (min)     A.

1   19.46        1,2,3  23.17        1,2,3  19.45        3
2    6.4         1,2,3  14.35        2      17.45        2,3
3   13.08        2,5,6  14.35        2,4,6  19.17        3
4                        7.33        4,6     7.37        3
5
6
7

    14.0 (n:13)
C.  T. (min)     A.

1    4.46        2,3
2    3.47        2
3   41           2
4    5.17        2,3,5
5    1.15        2
6
7

    15.0 (n:12)         16.0 (n:13)         17.0 (n:15)
C.  T. (min.)    A.     T. (min)     A.     T. (min)     A.

1    7.45        2      31.30        2,3,5  32.4         2,3
2   12.03        1,2,3  15.3         2,3    27.45        2,3,5,6
3
4
5
6
7
8

    18.0 (n:17)         19.0 (n:l8)               20.0 (n:14)
C.  T. (min)     A.     T. (min)     A.           T. (min)     A.

1    2.52        2,3    41.17        2,3,4,5      14.50        6
2    3.48        1,2,4  47.17        1,2,3,4,5,6   4.37        2,6
3    2.8         2,3,4  10           2,6           3.36        2,3
4    7.46        4      10           2             8.50        2,3,6
5    6.37        3,4,5  27.56        3
6    2           2      27.56        3
7   10.46        2,3
8   12.57        2,3,4

Table 1. Time Spent by Children in the Writing Center

Time Spent (min.)  (0-5)       (5-10)      (10-20)     (20-40)

Number of Times    19 (27.5%)  15 (21.8%)  23 (33.3%)  10(14.5%)

Time Spent (min.)  (40-50)

Number of Times    2(2.9%)

Table 2. Children's Activities in The Writing Center

Activities         Writing (1)  Drawing (2)  Painting (3)

Number time        12           58           42
Percent according
to the 69 coding
observation        14.4%        84.1%        60.9%

Activities         Copying with chart (4)  Cutting with scissors (5)

Number time        12                      16
Percent according
to the 69 coding
observation        14.4%                   23.2%

Activities         Others (6)

Number time        21
Percent according
to the 69 coding
observation        30.4%
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Date:Dec 22, 2018
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